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EU food agency says illegal GMO maize probably safe

Food & NutritionJun 14, 05

A genetically modified (GMO) maize that is illegal in Europe but found its way into EU countries probably does not pose a risk to either animals or humans, Europe’s food safety agency said on Monday.

While data on the maize, known as Bt-10 and made by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta, was incomplete, it seemed that mixing of Bt-10 with a similar strain Bt-11—which is approved in the EU—was probably harmless.

“It is not considered likely that the inadvertent contamination of the imported maize grain with Bt-10 poses a safety concern to animals and consumers,” the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in a statement.

EFSA qualified its findings by saying it was impossible to reach a conclusion on the overall safety of Bt-10 maize since Syngenta had not given sufficiently comprehensive data for EFSA to conduct a full risk assessment.

This was because the company had not intended for its GMO maize to be further developed for commercial market purposes.

Last month, EU authorities blocked shipments of maize animal feed and grain from the United States unless it could be proved they were untainted by Bt-10 maize, engineered to resist the corn borer insect.

The EU measures will be reviewed at the end of October. U.S. exporters send 3.5 million tonnes of corn gluten feed to Europe each year, a trade worth some 350 million euros ($449 million).

This followed Syngenta’s confirmation in March that some of its maize seeds sent to the EU from the United States were mistakenly mixed with Bt-10 sometime between 2001 and 2004.

Small amounts of Bt-10 seed arrived in France and Spain for research purposes, and have since been destroyed. Some 1,000 tonnes of Bt-10 maize also entered the EU, mostly as animal feed, although it is still unclear to which countries.

Japan, the biggest buyer of U.S. maize, recently found a shipment tainted with Bt-10 and will begin testing every U.S. cargo. And last month, a U.S. cargo of corn gluten feed found to contain Bt-10 was impounded on arrival in Ireland.

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